ENJOY THE MOVIES
"When I met you, it was like, you weren't scared of anything." The fall festival season has begun! What are the best of the films I've seen so far? While the Toronto Film Festival is still underway, the 2019 Venice Film Festival has wrapped up. All the big awards were handed out over the weekend (and Joker won the Golden Lion!) and things are settling down after 11 days of excitement. To recap my experiences watching 25 films at the festival this year, below I present my list of my Top 5 Favorite Films from the 76th Venice Film Festival. These are my favorite films, not necessarily the best ones at the 2019 festival, but the films that I enjoyed the most - for various reasons. As always, I can't see everything at the festival, and not everyone will enjoy the same films, but I'm happy to report that most of my colleagues felt the same way about these five.
What a strange, strange film this is. Egyptian-Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan has returned the festival circuit again with another peculiar feature film, this new one titled Guest of Honour (the extra "u" still included because this is the Canadian title and they use British English up there) which premiered at the Venice Film Festival. The film focuses on a father-daughter relationship and the various events that have lead them to the situation they're currently in - the daughter is in prison, the father is lonely and frustrated. And despite his attempts to secure her early release, she isn't interested and intends to stay in prison. It's an odd study in guilt, various layers of it and different characters that must deal with it, but it never amounts to much. And the filmmaking feels so slight and unexciting that it's just more puzzling than satisfying to watch.
After being threatened by the Venice Film Festival to have my press badge removed because I refused to follow the nonsensical embargo rules, I decided to publish this letter. When you experience injustice, when you experience oppression in the world, you must speak up. While this is not that bad, I still fight. I expect many of my colleagues and other critics will disagree with me and refute my claims, which is of course their right. But throughout the 13+ years I have been running this website, I have often seen jealousy and fear manifest itself as control and dominance and this is another example. I was told that others "complained" about my tweets, and so I was forced to fall in line and do what they demanded. I resist. I refuse. It is time to change this rule at festivals. Once a film screens, we should be free to talk about it. My full letter below.
Send in the clowns. The 76th Venice Film Festival wrapped up this weekend on the Lido, and the awards were handed out. The top prize at Venice is a Golden Lion (in honor of the iconic lion that is the symbol of the city) and it's one of the greatest achievements in cinema, along with the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. This year's big winner is Joker, the dark, gnarly, unlike-anything-before-it audacious comic book movie starring Joaquin Phoenix as the green-haired Gotham City villain. Other winners include an Italian actor named Luca Marinelli, who stars in the title role of Martin Eden, a major film which many critics loved here. And the young actor from the Australian film Babyteeth, named Toby Wallace, even though his co-star Eliza Scanlen didn't win (though she deserved to share this with him). All the winners are amusing and it makes me laugh because they're bold choices. The full list of Venezia 76 winners can be found below.
How much of the art world is bullshit? All of it? None of it? Some of it? At the beginning of the year, we had the funky art world satire Velvet Buzzsaw to make us wonder about the validity of art, and now at the end of the year we have The Burnt Orange Heresy. This film is much more serious, not at all a satire, with only a few drops of levity and much more drama. Along with heaps of philosophical discussion about art and what really matters and whether any of it is real, or if it's all just a bunch of bullshit yet everyone loves it anyway. The film opens with a thought-provoking presentation by the main character about the importance of criticism, which by the end also completely breaks down art criticism as a nonsensical job that can build up or tear down art that is truly separate (in its truth or purity or originality) than what others say about it.
Sometimes horror films don't have much horror, and sometimes dramas can be just as horrifying as horror films. Sometimes films defy labels and don't fit into any one genre. Pelican Blood is a good example of all of this, a film that presents itself as a challenging straight-forward drama about a woman adopting children. But there's something much more sinister going on within, and it reveals itself part of the way through. This film is the ultimate "and you thought your child was evil, wait until you see this one" joke, but it also has something beautiful to offer - an earnestness that separates it from all the other horror films that integrate similar concepts about evil children. Pelican Blood (originally titled Pelikanblut) is a German film from filmmaker Katrin Gebbe, and it's one of the most unique discoveries at the Venice Film Festival this year.
A sweet, heartfelt, smart tale of young first love. Babyteeth is the feature directorial debut of Australian filmmaker Shannon Murphy, after making a number of shorts and TV series previously. The film earned a spot playing in the main competition line-up at the Venice Film Festival, and it damn well deserves that spot. Babyteeth is a major player, one of my favorite films of the festival. I can certainly admit that I loved it - easily the highlight of this second half of the festival for me. It's way better than I was expecting (watch the first trailer), with one of the best upbeat soundtracks of songs out of any film here. It's not exactly anything groundbreaking, but the way it's presented is so compelling and all the characters are wonderfully complex.
Can laughter change the world? Can happiness save a life? Those are the kind of questions that might come to mind while watching this documentary, and at times, you could actually believe the answer is yes. 45 Seconds of Laughter is a doc film directed by actor Tim Robbins. He takes his acting group called The Actors Gang inside of a high security prison in California, running a week-long workshop where prisoners participate in a group in various theater / acting exercises. We've seen films like this before, and performing theater inside prisons isn't new, but it is always moving to watch. There's just something remarkably stirring about seeing prisoners, perpetually unhappy and angry, suddenly finding happiness and making tiny steps forward. It reminds us once again how the incredible power of positivity can be as a great force for change.
Welcome to Steven Soderbergh's history class. Today we will be learning about the history of money, and how our obsession with it has gotten seriously out of hand. Steven Soderbergh's latest feature film, titled The Laundromat, is an ingenious social commentary based around the Panama Papers and the terrifying truths they revealed. Following in the footsteps of The Big Short, this fourth-wall-breaking comedy / drama / satire / educational film / cautionary tale features a brilliant script written by Scott Z. Burns (of The Informant!, Contagion, Side Effects, The Mercy, The Report) that borrows heavily from Adam McKay's film in style and structure. It's essentially a film about the despicable men behind Mossack Fonseca, but it shows us a number of parables to remind us all just how much trickery, greed, corruption, and bullshit is out there.
There will be before Joker. And there will be after Joker. Nothing will be the same after, we'll be living in a whole new world. That's not even hyperbole, just the truth. I don't know if the world is ready for this movie. Or maybe it is? We'll find out soon enough. There's no stopping it now. I can't believe it exists. But it does, and it's coming. And no matter if we're ready or not, it's going to make an impact. Director Todd Phillips' new take on the origin of the DC Comics villain known as "The Joker" just premiered at the Venice Film Festival and oh my goodness, it is crazy. It is GNARLY. It is audacious. It doesn't hold back. It's subversive, provocative, dark, demented, twisted, and terrifying. Joker will likely end up being one of the most divisive movies of the decade, with some people hating it with a passion, others heralding it as a bold masterpiece.
I'm happiest when I watch a great film. Not just a good one, but a really great one. Something that fills me with energy, that reminds me this is why I love going to film festivals. And I'm happy to report that the new film from Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour (director of Wadjda, Mary Shelley, and Nappily Ever After previously), titled The Perfect Candidate, is indeed an outstanding film. After spending some time in Hollywood making a few films, Al-Mansour returns to her roots in Saudi Arabia to tells this story of a young woman in the country who discovers her voice. It's an inspiring & uplifting film that moves briskly and gives us a good story to follow. No matter where you're from, you can connect with and enjoy this film.
What is out there? What is waiting for us in the stars? James Gray's long-awaited sci-fi adventure Ad Astra has finally arrived. This time Gray takes us out into deep space on a journey with an astronaut named Roy McBride, set in the near future when we've colonized the Moon and Mars but have only just started to reach the edges of our own solar system. McBride is sent on a mission to find his missing father, hoping to figure out what's causing electrical storms wreaking havoc on Earth. This lonely, slow burn space movie is an awe-inspiring, magnificent journey into the stars. As a big time space geek, it ticks every last box. It's sensational to watch, meticulously realized and meditative, more melancholic than exciting but still a stellar experience.